Photo © Laing O'Rourke

It is widely recognised that traditional construction processes carried out on site deliver low levels of productivity. A traditional construction site is a complex environment in which to operate.

The reasons for this are wide ranging and include the inevitable day-to-day problems associated with the non-availability of equipment, labour and materials, ineffective sequencing and management of trade contractors and trade packages, the time taken to start and stop work, and the impact of drying times associated with wet trades.

The time of skilled project managers on site will usually be taken up with day-to-day problem solving rather than looking for ways to improve efficiency and client value. None of these negative factors are likely to be significantly reduced by the adoption of information modelling techniques.

Simply increasing the number of trades on site will certainly cost additional money but will not increase productivity or indeed lead to the project being delivered any faster.

Given the enduring complexities of managing a traditional construction site, it is difficult to see how the traditional industry will be able to increase levels of site productivity above the 50% which seems to represent current best in class. Put simply, this means that every pound of investment capital will at best secure only 50p of value. For those projects where capital cost is only a minor consideration this may not matter but for clients looking to maximise the value of their investment resources it may well be a matter of considerable concern.

No other significant modern manufacturing industry operates in anything like the way that the traditional construction industry operates. There is a real alternative – and that alternative involves standardisation, design for manufacture and assembly, the application of lean principles and most significantly moving to a design and production system based on the assembly of increasingly significant offsite manufactured components.

This is the direction of travel for an increasing number of expert construction clients and inevitably leads to a reduction in the numbers of trade and general labour on site and a shift in favour of small specialist installation teams to assembly the components of a building or civil engineering project.

As a predominantly factory based manufacturing process the production of offsite components has the potential to benefit from levels of productivity, quality and value typical of a factory environment provided that the required levels of throughput are achieved.

Considerations regarding opportunities to increase site productivity represent only part of the business and project case that the offsite industry will need to establish in order to make the case for a major expansion in the use of offsite construction methods in preference to traditional construction.

The challenge for the offsite industry is to be able to demonstrate to project decision takers that offsite construction represent a better commercial and project offering in the individual circumstances. This will involve a value judgment based on the likelihood of a combination of more predictable construction times on site, superior and more consistent levels of right first time quality, more certain performance impacting on cost of ownership and improved sustainability. The argument will be won on a case by case basis.

Action: Buildoffsite will continue to promote real world examples of offsite enabled projects delivering substantially improved levels of productivity and other benefits. We will also continue to work with partner organisations to deliver knowledge transfer events to share experience, evidence and support innovative practices.

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